Ask A Vet is an online Facebook group for area pet owners in Lancaster County to obtain pet advice and information from a vet. The group is operated as a free service by the veterinarians of the Pet Care Center of Lincoln and is being moderated by Dr. Jim Dager and Dr. Amy Walton. The site is geared mainly towards dog/cat questions and answers. The veterinarians are providing the service as a way for their clients and local pet owners to obtain advice about their pets from a trusted source. Please visit the Pet Care Center of Lincoln’s Facebook page, and give it a Like as thanks for providing this valuable service. LAA Pet Talk also thanks Dr. Amy Walton for taking time to do an interview. This interview is part of LAA Pet Talk’s Animal Welfare Takes A Village series.
ALLISON: Why did you become a vet?
DR. WALTON: The obvious answer would be that I love animals! But if that were the only reason, then most of us would be veterinarians. I also really enjoy science and solving problems. I greatly enjoy helping people, not just their pets. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a vet. It was a tossup between being a vet, a marine biologist, or a landscape architect. I began thinking more heavily about being a vet in high school. My junior year I lost my horse to colic. It was the most horrible time for me but the vet handled the situation wonderfully and really made me appreciate a good veterinarian. I wanted to be able to help others and provide good knowledge when their animals were sick.
ALLISON: What are the most common questions you have gotten about animal care?
DR. WALTON: The most common I hear is how much to feed my pet and is he/she overweight. I also get a lot of behavioral questions as well, usually pertaining to separation anxiety.
ALLISON: What are the most unusual questions you’ve gotten from clients about animal care?
DR. WALTON: I’ve gotten asked so many things, it’s hard to remember them all. I seem to get asked a lot about neutered males suddenly “regrowing balls” in his private region when he’s excited. That is always a fun one to explain, especially when they rush him in on emergency. Typically I hear more unusual comments than questions. Someone said that their indoor cat couldn’t possibly get rabies since bats couldn’t get into trailer houses or the time someone wouldn’t let me perform x-rays on their very sick cat because they worked all night pulling the radiation out of his body.
ALLISON: What kind of enrichment do you encourage for dogs?
DR. WALTON: I really like puzzle toys for dogs. Offer non-destructible toys as well. Toys may need to be rotated as they can get bored. Dogs need a lot outdoor and exercise time. They are also social creatures. You don’t need to get another dog but you need to make yourself available for your dog so they get several hours of interaction with you a day. Obedience classes are a great bonding and training exercise. Agility classes are great too! Swimming pools, ramps, designated digging areas in the yard, and good smelling things (scent stimulation) provide some enrichment. Leaving a radio or TV on while you are gone can battle loneliness. Go for walks and even rides in the car if your pup enjoys it.
ALLISON: What kind of enrichment do you encourage for cats?
DR. WALTON: Most cats don’t like or haven’t been trained to walk on a leash but if yours has, this is great for environmental enrichment. If you have the space available, building a “catio” can also give your cat stimulation with the outdoors in a safe environment. If you don’t, a window perch is great instead. Cats can be finicky on preferences of toys and treats. It may take some trial and error to find what your cat prefers. Toys are a great way to stimulate hunting instincts. Even some of the new motorized toys are pretty neat and provide good entertainment. Dried or fresh catnip, pet grass, and lemon grass can is great enrichment. Cat trees, hammocks, and beds make nice perching and hiding areas. Obviously, spending time with your cat is a great enrichment as well but, if your cat has had enough of you, don’t push the issue. Remember we do things on their time.
ALLISON: What kind of training do you encourage for dogs?
DR. WALTON: All dogs need basic obedience training including leash training. This needs to start at eight weeks of age. You need your dog to respond to your commands for their safety and well-being. They also need proper crate training. Socialization with other dogs needs to start early–at eight weeks as well. This can be achieved through puppy obedience classes and/or doggy daycare. Well-mannered and socialized individuals are much less likely to have anxiety and behavior related problems.
ALLISON: What kind of training do you encourage for cats?
DR. WALTON: The biggest training needs for cats include using the litterbox and appropriate scratching areas. These are the two biggest reasons that cats end up in shelters. If one desires they can teach their cat to walk on a harness but isn’t critical. The rest of training depends on your personal preference i.e. not jumping on counters, etc. Cats are fairly easy and usually train us more than we train them.
ALLISON: What do you think needs to be done to increase awareness of the needs of cats?
Getting the word out isn’t the difficult task, however. It’s making people understand and care that is the issue.–Dr. Walton
DR. WALTON: This all starts with owners doing research before they get a cat. Even though cats don’t need much training, there are very important things to begin when they are young kittens to avoid problems as adults. Other good information should come from the shelter if you adopted your cat and from your veterinarian. We send home “kitten packs” with all new kitten owners detailing what their cat will require growing up. The rest comes from individuals that understand the needs of cats and use campaigns and informative postings, broadcasts, etc to help spread the word.
ALLISON: What is something that the public doesn’t know about vets but should?
DR. WALTON: The job is extremely stressful emotionally, physically, and financially. Work life balance is very difficult and if we take time off for ourselves or family, we get accused of providing poor service and lose business. Vets have four times the rate of suicide versus the general public and twice that of other medical care professionals. In fact 1 in 6 veterinarians has contemplated suicide. This is becoming a hot topic in the veterinary field that is finally being addressed but no good solutions have come yet. Several of my classmates have already left the private practice industry due to stress and the desire to have a good and balanced life for their families.
ALLISON: How can the public help veterinarians?
DR. WALTON: Contact (phone, email, facebook, etc) your vet if you have any questions. Don’t give something or apply anything and then call. Your vet should be happy to answer any questions you may have. Sometimes the message will be relayed through an LVT but you should trust them as they are an extension of your vet. Your vet cannot diagnosis over the phone or by email but they can give you recommendations until you can get your pet seen. They may not be able to get back to you right away but should follow up by the end of the day, if not a couple of hours. If you feel it is an urgent or emergency situation, please express that to the staff so they make sure to let the veterinarian know. If they aren’t interested in helping you, no matter how small the question, you should find a different vet. Your vet is there to answer questions and be the advocate for your pet’s health and well being.